Ottawa, April 19, 1999. The Toronto Star was presented with the prestigious Michener Award for Journalism for a series of stories on mental health and cancer care. Award judges cited the stories as important works of journalism that spurred real public policy changes in Ontario’s troubled health care system.
Publisher John Honderich accepted the award on behalf of the Star from Governor-General Roméo LeBlanc during a ceremony held at Rideau Hall. The Michener Awards Foundation makes an annual presentation to a deserving news organization to recognize Canada’s best meritorious public service journalism. The finalists for the award were selected from 47 entries.
The Governor General praised the finalists and said that their stories “revealed real issues facing Canadians and because of your efforts, people are looking at ways to fix the problems”. (full text of his award night address)
During the ceremony, the Governor General presented a special certificate of honour to Fraser MacDougall the founding president of the Michener Awards Foundation. This followed a long and distinguished career as an executive with Canadian Press and the Ontario Press Council. He also spent many years as chairman of the Michener judging panel and was responsible for recruiting the original board of the Michener Awards Foundation when the organization was established in 1982.
The Toronto Star won the Award for two series on the troubled Ontario health care system, each generating swift government reaction. The stories began as ideas suggested by the reporters.
The first series by reporters Leslie Papp and Lisa Priest, involved a six-month investigation into the state of cancer treatment and its cure and sketched a broad range of Ontario’s treatment deficiencies. Disclosure of lengthy delays in cancer radiation treatment was followed by a provincial injection of $16.6 million.
The Star exposure of mental health treatment problems were followed by a provincial probe. The Police, the courts, and care facilities also responded. This series included:
- Reports by Theresa Boyle and Donovan Vincent spelling out problems in the mental health system. The series, illustrated by Peter Power, triggered a Queen’s Park probe, and a $60 million pledge to expand community-based treatment facilities.
- A powerful look at the mental health system from a personal and systemic perspective by broadcast journalist Scott Simmie. It spanned a year-long study of mental illness, including many street people.
Judging committee chairman Arch MacKenzie said after the presentations – “The overriding factor is the degree of public benefit that’s really generated. Good journalism is not enough. You really have to have some results from it”.
1999 Michener-Deacon Fellowship:
During the Award ceremony at Government House, his Excellency also presented the 1999 Michener-Deacon Fellowship to west coast photographer Christopher Grabowski. Born in Poland and now living in Vancouver, Mr. Grabowski is a freelance photojournalist with international credits. He has worked with the CBC, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, Financial Times, El Mundo and Neue Zurcher Zeitung, among other media outlets.
He proposes to establish an exhibit of 100 environmentally-influenced photos of British Columbia coast fishing communities. These photos will be used to support features on the threatened coastal fishery. Mr. Grabowski is also a founding member of Narrative 360, a Canadian non-profit association for documentary arts. (His fellowship report and BC coast photo gallery)
Norman Webster, the president of the Michener Awards Foundation said the volume and quality of this year’s entries would have given the late Roland Michener, the patron of the award, great satisfaction because it has become one of Canada’s most coveted prize for excellence in journalism. The award is given not just for enterprise and insight, but for the pubic benefit that actually flows from it. He added that sometimes this means controversy, but as the unsinkable Nellie McClung once remarked: “Never apologize, never retreat, never explain. Just get the job done and let them howl”. (Full text of his remarks)
Maclean’s Magazine received a certificate of Honourable Mention, which goes to the runner-up in the Michener Awards, for articles on malaise in the Canadian military. Senior writer Jane O’Hara said it began with a suggestion from a former admiral to look into the poor quality of life for soldiers and their families. Publication of those stories led to more revelations of horrific stories of sexual harassment, shoddy equipment, and abuse in the ranks. O’Hara wrote, reported, and coordinated the work of six other reporters for the series. The result, in the face of military non-co-operation, was fresh funding for salaries and housing and a more vigilant approach to dealing with sexual abuse and harassment. Bob Lewis, Managing Editor of MacLean’s, accepted the Citation of Merit from Governor General Roméo LeBlanc.
Citations of Merit were awarded to:
The Ottawa Citizen – for a 19-part series by reporter Paul McKay criticizing the Law Society of Upper Canada in its “ability to detect, catch and punish crooked lawyers”. Even though “the absolute number of crooked lawyers is relatively small” – there is some suggestion they account for less than 2 percent of Ontario’s 27,000-member practising bar – the damage they can do is considerable because of the trust they command in clients as respected professionals. The Law Society maintains that it has limited powers to investigate and discipline wayward lawyers and appeared before a provincial legislative committee in December to seek changes strengthening its regulatory role. The series elicited hundreds of reader responses.
The Canadian Press – for the persistent digging by Dennis Bueckert which kept alive the plight of hepatitis C patients, hapless victims of tainted blood, in their fight for compensation. These stories exposed the plan of lawyers to seek up to 30 per cent of any government compensation as contingency payments, delays in settling the claims and Red Cross plans to sue the federal government for millions of dollars to cover compensation demands against it. The Health Minister banned contingency fees after the Canadian Press news reports.
the fifth estate (CBC TV) – for an investigation showing that Canadian corporate giants RJR MacDonald and Imperial Tobacco “had embarrassingly-close ties” to the boom in cigarette smuggling of the early 1990s. A spin-off of this investigation was an affiliate of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco International agreeing last year to pay $15 million U.S. in fines for helping smugglers reroute made-in-Canada cigarettes back to Canada via the Akwesasne reserve. Following the Government tax cuts on tobacco to help stifle the smuggling, the fifth estate concluded: “As health critics warned, once the price of cigarettes dropped, teen smoking soared. The smuggling boom was over but the cigarette companies had won.” The Michener Citation of Merit was accepted by David Studer, Executive Producer of CBC-TV’s the fifth estate.
Winnipeg Free Press – for a series which exposed the magnitude of outright fraud, misuse or overuse of drugs provided by greedy and unethical pharmacists and some physicians, abusing the $157-million-a-year national drug program for Aboriginals. The Registrar of the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association called it “a national disgrace.”
Reporter Paul Wiecek, returning to a subject covered in 1995, proposed solutions that now are being considered.
1998 Award Night Photo Gallery
Judges for the 1998 Michener Award:
Marcel Gingras, former Ottawa bureau chief of La Presse, former Le Droit editor, retired secretary, Public Service Commission of Canada; David Humphreys, former managing editor of the Calgary Albertan and the Ottawa Journal, former Ottawa bureau chief of the Globe and Mail, currently President of Humphreys Public Affairs Group; Jeannine Locke, former reporter at the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, former Ottawa Citizen editorial writer and Toronto Star London correspondent, retired CBC film-maker; Marilyn MacDonald, former CBC and print journalist, former public relations officer at Dalhousie University, currently communications consultant, Halifax; Arch MacKenzie, former Ottawa bureau chief of The Canadian Press and the Toronto Star (Chair of the Judging Panel).
Judges for the 1999 Michener-Deacon Fellowship:
Francoise Côté, journalist and writer from Quebec; Ed O’Dacre, former journalist in Timmins, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Hamilton, former senior editor of The Globe and Mail and the Canadian Geographic Magazine; Kevin Peterson, former publisher of the Calgary Herald; Shirley Sharzer, former journalist at the Toronto Telegram, Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, former member of the University of Western Ontario journalism faculty; Jodi White, VP Corporate Affairs, Imasco Limited (Chair of the Judging Panel).
The Michener Award, founded in 1970 by the late Right Honourable Roland Michener, then Governor General, goes to a news organization. The judges’ decisions are heavily influenced by the degree of public benefit generated by the print and broadcast projects submitted for consideration.